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Understanding Emotions Series: Resentment

Resentment and I have been very close friends throughout the years. I never understood what this emotion was telling me- but all I knew is that I felt it all of the time in virtually every relationship I had.

Over the last several years I've had to confront this emotion and deal with it accordingly. Although it definitely has not been super fun, it's been rewarding. Not only I have I learned more about myself, but I've actually been able to experience some peace and gratitude; two things I scarcely felt before.

I'm certainly not over the resentment hump - new situations trigger old emotions. I've learned those situations will happen (not if, when) and I get to decide how I respond to them... and by just feeling resentment instead of denying it exists within me, I'm able to being the process of healing.

Many people experience resent and that's pretty natural, especially any time there is oppression, abuse or actual, real-life injustices.

I want everyone to keep this in mind: there are unfair, horrible and damaging injustices that impact people through generations (abuse, neglect, racism, homophobia, sexism,etc). Therefore, when facing and talking about resent, we must be loving, gentle and empathetic.

Let's talk about it.

What is resentment though?

Resentment is an emotion closely related to anger, but has one identifying feature: a sense of injustice. Most of the time, the emotion stems from an event or (re)occurrence from the past. When we feel resentment, we often feel all of the emotions tied to the original injustice -- as a result, that also causes us to relive all of the original emotions AND the original wrongdoing all over again.

The tricky thing with resentment is that it can be an actual wrongdoing (like a real-life injustice) or a perceived wrongdoing. The experience of the injustice is different for different people, but when held on to through time with no reconciliation, resentment turns into a deep-seeded emotion that is more difficult to release.

According to Dan Mager, resentment makes you spiritually, emotionally and mentally bonded to the person(s) or institutions responsible for the injustice. Ultimately when we hold on to the resentment, we are then bound to the person and event even when we don't really want to be.

What does resentment tell us?

Resentment tell us several things:

  • Our needs aren't being met

  • There has been a perceived or real injustice

  • We've gone unnoticed

  • There's an unresolved concern

  • We've experienced prejudice

  • Public humiliation may have occurred

  • We're jealous of something

  • We've been taken advantage of

If channeled in healthy ways, resentment can help us understand our own moral code and help guide our personal values.

Resentment is important to recognize because if we don't realize it's happening, it causes us to have further deep-seeded anger. That can result in anxiety, depression and other chronic illnesses.

How does resentment impact relationships?

Holding on to resentment can be dangerous for our emotional well-being, but also for our current and future relationships.

Since resentment is tied to the experience of injustice, our emotions are tied to the resolution of that injustice. Therefore if the original wrongdoing was never justified (mostly in the way we would have wanted it to go), we project those feelings onto our current and future relationships without even knowing.

As a result, if we think someone in our relationships has "done us wrong", we get mad if they don't resolve it exactly as we would like them to OR become upset if they don't make the choices we'd like them to (in the future). We begin to try and control the outcome and the choice of situations so we don't have to relive the injustice, and the accompanied emotions, again and again.

Lastly, if we become resentful when situations don't turn out the way we want them to, we give the power of our emotions to other people.

Bottom line: if we are unable to reconcile the original point of resent, then our current and future relationships will suffer. Inevitably we will limit the freedom and choice of other people and can become an "unsafe" person. We can become controlling of other people instead of taking control of ourselves.

How do we release resentment?

1. Feel the Resentment -Like most other negative emotions we'd like to avoid, we can't ignore the feelings of resentment. Be vulnerable with the emotion and accept the feeling.